Car prepares to drive itself 3,500 miles across U.S.
Car prepares to drive itself 3,500 miles across U.S. An autonomous car from Delphi drives on Treasure Island in preparation for a cross-country trip from San Francisco to New York City (Reuters / Thinkstock)
Car prepares to drive itself 3,500 miles across U.S.
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Call it a preview of the cross-country road trip of the future.

An autonomous car developed by Michigan-based auto supplier Delphi Automotive will soon be making a 3,500-mile journey across the U.S. A person will sit behind the wheel at all times but won't touch it unless there's a situation the car can't handle. The car will mainly stick to highways.

Companies both inside and outside the auto industry are experimenting with technologies that take more and more responsibilities away from the driver right up to the act of actually driving the car. Most experts say a true driverless vehicle is at least a decade away.

Delphi plans to show off one of several versions of the car an Audi Q5 crossover outfitted with laser sensors, radar and multiple cameras at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. The official car will start its journey March 22 in San Francisco and expects to arrive in New York a little more than a week later.

The autonomous Audi warmed up for its long journey by racking up lots of miles tooling around Delphi's Silicon Valley office and taking a drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Delphi showed off the car at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January where, during a demonstration, the car braked by itself just like it was supposed to when two men fell into the street in front of it.

Delphi executives say driving the car for six to eight hours per day on various roadways and in very different weather conditions will give them valuable data that can help improve the technology. Engineers will also look for ways to make drivers and passengers more comfortable with the idea of autonomous driving.

"We're going to learn a lot out of this," said Jeff Owens, Delphi's chief technology officer.

Delphi officials believe the upcoming road trip is the longest automated drive ever attempted in North America. In 2010, the Italian company VisLab took a driverless van on an 8,000-mile, three-month journey from Europe to Shanghai.

Delphi's autonomous vehicle looks like a regular car and not a science project. Anyone who looks at driverless cars developed by Google, Honda and others, immediately notices the circular, spinning sensor on top, scanning the surrounding area with lasers, a technology known as lidar. Instead, Delphi tucked six lidar sensors into the car's front, rear and sides. And because lidar sensors don't work well in heavy snow or rain, the car has six radar sensors that can also detect road obstacles. The car also has cameras throughout, including one that watches the driver.

Delphi says the vehicle is capable of making complex decisions, like stopping and then proceeding at a four-way stop, timing a merge onto the highway or maneuvering around a bicyclist or a trash can. When it wants the driver to resume control, it uses a verbal warning and flashes lights on the dashboard.

Owens won't say how much its autonomous prototypes cost, but for now, this technology is prohibitively expensive. Lidar systems can cost upward of $70,000 apiece.

Doug Welk, an engineer in the company's automated driving program, said the cross-country drive will help Delphi figure out the best combination of sensors, ultimately helping to lower costs. Delphi estimates it will cost around $5,000 to make a vehicle almost fully autonomous by 2019.

Owens said Delphi has been working on automated driving since 1999, when it first started putting radar sensors on cars. Now, 2 million cars are outfitted with those sensors, which are used for adaptive cruise control, automatic braking and other features.

Fully autonomous driving could come over the next decade or two, Owens said. Driverless cars are even further away. But in the meantime, Delphi sees autonomous features, like pedestrian detection or vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems, as a way to drastically cut the number of traffic deaths worldwide.

"This technology can make a serious impact on those statistics," Owens said. "The car is not distracted, even if the driver is."

Critical thinking challenge: Why is it important to make drivers and passengers more comfortable with the idea of autonomous driving?

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Assigned 32 times

  • KiraWvA-4
    4/02/2015 - 09:57 p.m.

    Delphi Automotive, stationed in Michigan, is going to test a version of its driverless Audi by making it drive 3,500 miles across the US from San Francisco to New York. It is outfitted with six liar sensors, six radar, and many cameras, and can navigate around bicycles, trash cans, and four-way stops. The car will have a person sitting behind the wheel at all time but they will not touch anything unless the car wants them to take over diving or something which it can't manage occurs. I think the idea of fully autonomous cars by 2019 is exciting, and I'll be able to drive by then!

  • GrantW-2
    4/03/2015 - 04:07 p.m.

    This article is about a self-driving car and its cross-country journey. The car looks exactly like a normal car even though it costs thousands of dollars. The sensors are put on the front, sides and back of the car rather than the top. I hope this tech prevails and everyone has self driving cars.

  • TaylorSeifert-Ste
    4/04/2015 - 07:30 p.m.

    Sometimes I think that technology is getting too out of hand, people rely on it way too much. I always try to imagine what would happen if the internet stopped working and how many people truly would not be able to go through their daily lives without it. Creating a car that does not need to be driven by anyone, but instead relies on its own technology is a big step for science, but I know that even though I make mistakes I would rather be driving a car than trusting it to do all the work by itself.

  • ethano-Goo
    4/06/2015 - 08:50 a.m.

    Drivers and passengers should be more comfortable with cars driving themselves. The text states that the car is outfitted with laser sensors, radar and multiple cameras. The text also states the vehicle is capable of making complex decisions, like stopping and then proceeding at a four-way stop, timing a merge onto the highway or maneuvering around a bicyclist or a trash can. This evidence from the text is why drivers should be comfortable with cars driving themselves.

  • Ashleypatt
    4/06/2015 - 01:48 p.m.

    They will be testing this driveles car by traveling it around the world. This car as many cameras so it can get around simple things or even people. So people will be sitting behind the wheel not doing anything at all not even touching the wheel. Now there is a way if the person wants to take over they are able to so if they get tired on a trip or something they can have there car drive all by its self.

  • jacobm-Che
    4/07/2015 - 01:48 p.m.

    this is a very good idea it would be great for the blind or those who don't remember how to get home that and the people how don't drive cars can use this now if it also drive its self back home this is would be something everyone would want i see it now and i want it

  • KeenanGpurple
    4/07/2015 - 05:36 p.m.

    They are testing the Delphi car to see how far it can go witch is cool. I cant believe its going to go 3,500 miles.

  • LilyTPurple
    4/07/2015 - 05:37 p.m.

    I think that if people start using these cars that our economy will improve. Car accidents are big in the US, but this car can help us cut down on it.

  • Josephl-Pav
    4/23/2015 - 09:59 a.m.

    That is very cool. They should not let anybody sit inside just to see how the car handles if it were to be in a car crash. It has to have safety features even if it has all those sensors and radars.

  • JamiTCamo
    5/19/2015 - 04:54 p.m.

    I would not like to be the person behind the wheel because if theres a wreak. It does seem really cool that its going to drive all by its self unless theres an emergency. If it comes back in one piece I will be very surprised because it would be scary. It would be an amazing accomplishment to do.

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